While Trump is gambling with his political capital in a fight with Democrats over his signature campaign promise — the “big, beautiful wall” along the Mexico border — another campaign promise to cut regulations and ease federal bureaucracy for businesses has stalled.
Business leaders say brewers can’t get tax stickers to sell their beer. Federal reviews of mergers and acquisitions have been suspended. Small business can’t receive help from the Small Business Administration.
The record-breaking shutdown - now in its fifth week - could also jeopardize passage of one of Trump’s key trade priorities, ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The agency working on an economic assessment report for Congress, the United States International Trade Commission, has been closed. But that’s not all.
“It is important for manufacturers that Washington continues to function,” said Jordan Stoick, vice president for government relations at the National Association of Manufacturers. “There are a number of important priorities impacted in the affected agencies including ITC’s review of the USMCA, EPA’s consideration of 2020 ozone and particulate matter standards as well as workplace regulations pending at OIRA.”
Groups like National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have begun to sound the alarm privately and publicly about fears that the partial government shutdown could jeopardize several priorities from the trade deal to the easing of what they see as onerous regulations.
Ever the showman, a year ago, Trump cut a large red ribbon wrapped around a paper stack taller than he is of what he said were federal regulations in a Roosevelt Room ceremony celebrating his deregulation priorities.
“For the first time in decades, we achieved regulatory savings.” Trump said. “We aimed for 2-for-1 and in 2017, we hit 22-for-1.”
Neither Democrats nor Trump has budged from their positions since the shutdown began on Dec. 22 over whether to include funding for Trump’s border wall. It is now the longest in history.
In effort to limit the impact of the shutdown, the Trump administration ordered thousands of furloughed federal employees, such as plane and food inspectors, back to work without pay.
Trump has has also protected key industries such the oil sector by allowing the Interior Department to continue the public planning process for oil development in Alaska.
In the early stages of the shutdown, leaders in the business community tempered their concerns because they expected the standoff would end quickly. But fears have picked up week by week as key deadlines have neared and important hearings postponed, such as a January 23 public hearing on the proposed rollback of Obama-era protections of small bodies of water.
Last week, the administration also started to furlough employees in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which could delay work on communications materials for the USMCA and stop meetings with members to explain sections of the revised agreement. The agreement needs to be approved by Congress.
The concern is that with each passing day the situation gets worse, more deadlines are missed and priorities go unfinished. Another concern is new regulations will be rushed, weakly assembled and therefore more easily overturned by a new administration.
“How far is the backslide on this,” asked one former Trump White House official, who questioned the strategy. “They have so much on their plate. How are they going to get all these priorities done on time?”
The White House declined to comment on specific questions about concerns by big business. Efforts to reach spokesman at other related federal agencies were unsuccessful because of the shutdown.
Beyond the formal delays because critical agencies can’t do their work, the USMCA is also likely to be hampered from the lasting damage of a bitter political fight, said Eric Miller, a trade consultant who has worked for the Canadian government and continues to advise them on the negotiations.
“The complete lack of dialogue or cooperation between the House of Representatives and the administration also has to be seen as a delay in this process,” Miller said. “Because (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi is not exactly going to be snapping to attention if Trump says pass this and pass this quickly.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Congress pleading with congressional leadership and the White House to resolve their differences and reopen the government.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue, who cited the problem brewers are facing getting tax stickers to sell beer, said he could think of 30 similar cases where business owners are facing problems because of the shutdown.
“Administrations only have so many days,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “You can’t get days back. So if you’ve lost 20 days where you’re supposed to be working on a process of moving a regulation through the pipeline. You’re never going to get those back. That begins to have real world consequences.”